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Family and friends: the best or worst people to read your book?

Shortly after I published my first novel, x0, I was surprised by this question. “Did you let family members read your book before you published it?” Of course I did. What kind of question is that, I thought. I mean, maybe if I wrote certain kinds of books then no, but ….

I realize that I am lucky that my family is fairly open minded and mature and I was able to rely on my husband, my sister, my three children, a cousin and a handful of friends for encouragement and plot hole hunting before I ever sent my first manuscript off to a professional editor. I couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, have done it without them.

beautiful life2Now that I’m in the home stretch of putting my fifth novel, d4, out on kindle, the question makes a lot more sense to me. I am lucky in that I didn’t have to avoid the obvious problems caused by dysfunctional friends and relatives sabotaging my efforts, but I have learned how even the best of loved ones don’t always make the best of beta readers.

For starters, those close to you can be too encouraging. If they truly care about you, they will be so proud of your work that you may be lulled into not giving it the harsh scrutiny that it needs. It is a delicate balance between letting loved ones help you be confident and letting them convince you that every odd phrase you produce is golden.

If one is persistent about this writing thing, like I turned out to be, one is also likely to wear people down. One book was fun to read. The second less so. By the time you send your fifth book off to them, at least some of these caring souls will have decided they are not willing to drop everything yet again to meet your deadline. Expect people close to you to avoid your phone calls and ignore your text messages. It can be a little painful all around.

I discovered that those who remain enthused can cause other problems when they go recruiting for you. With this latest book I had a couple of family members talk others into reading, and the coerced aren’t always so helpful. Yes the old high school friend did have a great background in investing, which was useful for a beta reader of d4. However, as he pointed in in his critique, he rather hates books about paranormal abilities and therefore a novel about the havoc wrecked on the stock market by a clairvoyant didn’t exactly interest him. The feedback went downhill from there and ended with him asking why I bothered to write books anyway.

Good question. Among the many answers is the truth that writing novels has been a journey of growth for me. Just the technical abilities I’ve acquired have made this well worth the effort, but the personal growth that has come from handling bad reviews and gushing fans (yes, I do have some) and the self-discipline needed to make it all happen — well, that eclipses the factual knowledge. Yes, some of that personal growth has come from letting those closest to me be part of the process. Good, bad, or indifferent, my family and friends have been a facet of my journey. I’m glad that I included them, because the journey so far has been quite good.

(Visit my post Time Traveler Looking for a Good Time to read about my strategy for thanking beta readers, and check out my post on whether strangers make the perfect beta readers instead. Also please drop by the Facebook page of Your Beautiful Life and give them a like for the great image used above.)

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in writing

 

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and then you bleed …

blood2I’ve just handed my fourth novel off to the first of my beta readers and I’m taking a little time to reflect, not to mention time to do a few loads of towels and go through the “where the hell did this junk come from” pile on my dresser. I’ll be starting d4 in October, and it now looks like I will in fact write a collection of six books. Wow.

I’m thinking of Ernest Hemingway today. It’s somewhat embarrassing that I’ve never read one of his novels even though I love many of his quotes. Recently I found this one. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Five years ago I would have found that silly and overly dramatic. Today it strikes me as the most succinct and accurate description of writing fiction that I have ever read.  Not that I write as well as Hemingway. He wasn’t talking about good or bad writing, just about the act of pouring yourself intotypewriter a story. No matter how overblown it seems, the truth is that I have pretty much gotten up for three days a week for the last seven months and picked up my lovely new ultralight computer, taken it out to my porch, and bled all over it. And found it fun.

Now that I’m handing the bloody mess off to friends and strangers alike, I have to wonder what motivates such odd behavior. I’m a very private person, yet I’m incapable of creating a story that isn’t filled with my most personal dreams and fears. I’m also incapable of not creating stories. I am aware that this didn’t end well for Hemingway, or for a lot of other writers that I admire. Others seemed to have navigated those same waters and survived and even thrived. What makes the difference?

Maybe while I’m on break I’ll skim a few writer’s biographies and try to figure out how others bandaged up their open wounds in between books. Maybe I’ll even finally read “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. I mean, how can I be writing a collection of stories that starts off with the premise that we are all one, and not have read a book that takes its title from a 1624 quote that says

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Words worth considering as our world contemplates one more outbreak of war, and as each one of us sits on our porch and tries to bandage our own wounds from the previous day.

injury sign

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in writing

 

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